Sunday, December 2, 2012

December '12 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
The Apparition
(Warner Bros)
Todd Lincoln’s risible thriller clocks in at a mere 82 minutes, 10 of which are the final credits. What happens in the preceding 72 precludes logic and plausibility: but, you say, who knows how the supernatural really works? Certainly not Lincoln, who regurgitates many cinematic clichés and might even create new ones, like an ending that—along with being telegraphed on the Blu-ray cover—must be seen to be disbelieved. Poor Ashley Greene screams and carries on annoyingly, which fits this charming actress like a pair of size 15 shoes. The Blu-ray image is good; extras include several featurettes.

Guys and Dolls
(Warner Bros)
Frank Loesser’s classic Broadway musical, adapted for the screen by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1955, has much to recommend it—notably Loesser’s tunes and Abe Burrows’ hilarious book. But the leads are compromised: Frank Sinatra’s Nathan Detroit is not bad, neither is Vivian Blaine’s Miss Adelaide, but Marlon Brando looks uncomfortable as Sky Materston—he gets by on his unique charisma—and Jean Simmons seems equally ill at ease as Sky’s gal. Still, the big set pieces (Michael Kidd choreographed) are marvelous, as is Harry Stradling’s Cinemascope camerawork. The Blu-ray image is top-notch; extras are featurettes and extended musical performances.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Parts 1 & 2
(Warner Bros)
The interminable Harry Potter series finale—spread out over 4-1/2 hours—made legions of fans giddy with excitement, but for others, this chronicle of a young wizard, his friends and the villains they battle is less than scintillating. Even with the cream of British acting royalty—Ralph Fiennes and Michael Gambon have meaty parts, but Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters are mere walk-ons—and good work by Daniel Radcliffe and adorable Emma Watson as Harry and Hermione, David Yates’ glacially paced movies are barely mediocre. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras include picture-in-picture explorations and bonus discs with hours of featurettes and interviews.

Heaven’s Gate (Criterion)
Michael Cimino’s 1980 western was a financial debacle but only partially an artistic one. His fictionalized version of the Johnson County War has some of the most beautiful images committed to celluloid—Vilmos Zsigmond is the master cinematographer—but this 3 hour, 36 minute epic’s puny characterizations cloud the visual brilliance on display. For the Criterion Collection edition, a chance to give full context to what happened during filming and its opening was missed: there’s nothing about budgetary overruns and a disastrous premiere. Instead, interviews with Cimino and producer Joann Carelli, star Kris Kristofferson and composer David Mansfield discuss the film in a vacuum. It’s not good enough—despite the glistening Blu-ray transfer—to be labeled a classic.

(Anchor Bay)
John Hillcoat’s drama of a trio of Virginia brothers’ rum-running enterprise during Prohibition is sporadically impressive, with taut storytelling, authentic visuals and excellent performances: notably Tom Hardy as the Kevin Costner-like eldest brother and Jessica Chastain, a rare American actress unafraid of nudity. But a cutesy subplot about Shia Labeouf’s youngest brother and Mia Wasikowska’s love interest has contemporary portrayals out of step with the rest of the film. The hi-def transfer is superb; extras include a commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes and Willie Nelson music video.

Men in Black 3
The original smash sci-fi comedy hit’s second sequel is even more unnecessary than the first was—Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are sleepwalking throughout. Making it more watchable is a deadpan Josh Brolin, assorted CGI monsters and a ridiculous, sentimental wrap-up. Of course, since there will likely be a third sequel from director Barry Sonnenfeld and his men, you’ve been warned. The Blu-ray image glistens; extras include featurettes, a gag reel and Pitball music video.

Paul McCartney—Live Kisses
(Eagle Vision/MPL)
Sir Paul’s superlative album of standards, Kisses on the Bottom, beat the likes of Rod Stewart at his own game: and with a crack band led by pianist Diana Krall and guitarist John Pizzarelli, his live versions have even more loving care. This hour-long concert is a once-in-a lifetime event, and Joe Walsh’s lovely acoustic guitar on Paul’s own contribution, the haunting “My Valentine,” is a must-hear. The film looks terrific on Blu-ray; extras include six versions of Paul’s “My Valentine” video with a ravishing Natalie Portman and frumpled Johnny Depp, video making-of and interview with McCartney and producer Tommy LiPuma.

2012 World Series Champions—San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants might have the beginnings of a baseball dynasty after capturing their second World Series championship in three seasons. The official film of their run to the title includes highlights from the four-game sweep (the Detroit Tigers, fresh off pummeling the hated Yankees, went down as meekly as the Pinstripers did), along with Game Seven of the National League Championship Series, when they finished yet another fabled comeback against St. Louis. The hi-def image, of course, is splendid (sports was made for hi-def); other extras include more playoff highlights.

DVDs of the Week
Color Me Obsessed—A Film about the Replacements
This two-hour documentary about the Replacements—an underdog pick for “greatest rock’n’roll band”—might be too long for those who don’t hang on every thing Paul Westerberg and the gang said and done, but it’s still a fun ride. The premise is that, while other artists were selling millions, the Minneapolis boys stayed under the radar to make great, pure rock albums. I’m no Robert Christgau fan, so hearing him pontificate pretentiously isn’t my idea of a good time, yet hearing from Husker Du’s Grant Hart compensates (but where the hell is Bob Mould?). For real fans, the second disc contains an additional three hours of interviews.

Inside John Lennon
(e one)
This 2003 documentary, narrated and written by Henry Stephens, makes trite use of public domain material to tell John Lennon’s story from his early life to 1980 murder. How can you tell this won’t be particularly enlightening? Because those interviewed are John’s sister (who has little of interest to say), the Beatles’ chauffeur, Quarrymen members and a general manager at Apple. Despite John’s towering talent, it’s not a must-see Beatle portrait. Extras include additional interviews.

Natural Selection
(Cinema Guild)
Rachael Harris’ compelling presence as a woman whose life changes forever when she tracks down her estranged stepson gives this routine drama a tension otherwise lacking. It’s too bad that director Robbie Pickering sets up a relationship that, despite being transformed by an unexpected event, remains quite ordinary instead of exceptional. All of this despite the genuine chemistry between Harris and Matt O’Leary. Extras include cast and crew interviews.

The Rolling Stones—Under Review, 1975-1983
(Sexy Intellectual)
Following an artistic desert after the Exile on Main Street album—which still included a Number One hit, “Angie”—the Rolling Stones replaced Mick Taylor with Ron Wood and went on a commercial tear: Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You followed in succession, along with huge, tri-annual tours. The Stones’ pivotal eight years are recounted in a doc that assumes Rescue sucked, which is wrong. But what do rock critics know? Vintage footage of the boys live and in the new video medium is included, giving this unauthorized version the scent of authenticity. Extras include brief extra interviews.

CDs of the Week
Lalo: Le Roi d’Ys
One of the hidden riches of 19th century French opera, Edouard Lalo's 1888 drama has a trite libretto but its power comes from wonderful melodies and showcase arias for the leads, which this recording displays. Eric Martin-Bonnet sings the title role with savoir faire, while Giuseppina Piunti and Guylaine Girard give the female roles serene beauty. The orchestra and chorus of the Opera Royal de Wallonie perform well under conductor Edouard Rasquin.

Silver Linings Playbook
(Sony Classical)
For David O. Russell’s audience-pleaser with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the soundtrack is as eclectically mixed as its protagonists. Alongside excerpts of Danny Elfman’s score, there’s a jumble of tunes from yesterday (Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”) and today (“Silver Lining” by Jessie J), with little rhyme or reason linking tracks by David Brubeck Quartet, Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash and Eagles of Death Metal. Those who enjoyed the movie might get a kick out of hearing these songs again.

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